H.G Wells’ 19th century classic The Invisible Man has seen many renderings, with some faithful to the original text while others take the sole theme of how the freedom of anonymity can have bad consequences. In Leigh Whannell’s latest addition to the catalogue of adaptations, he goes down the thematic route presenting a modern tale of how narcissism and greed breed evil.
Did you ever have an ex you just couldn’t shake? They seem to pop up wherever you are? Now imagine that, but they’ve managed to make themselves invisible and you can’t even file a restraining order. This is the fate Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) unknowingly faces as she makes a tense escape from the home of her sleeping partner, Adrian Griffin, a controlling, cruel and freakishly strong optics tech mogul.
While hiding out at the home of her childhood friend, Detective James Lanier (Aldis Hodge) along with his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid) the news breaks that Griffin has allegedly committed suicide. Now seemingly free, Cecilia begins to take her life back and there’s a glimpse of hope as she builds the bridges Griffin had burned, but something is still awry. Frying pan fires randomly erupt, and the contents of her portfolio go missing, and she finds high levels of diazepam in her system. Quite logically, Cecilia deduces that he has managed to achieve his goal of creating an invisibility suit and has now faked his death so he can use it to torment her – totally makes sense, but unfortunately not everyone else seems to think so. What Griffin doesn’t realize is Cecilia is a lot tougher than he thought.
Whannell’s past projects include the horror fan favorite trilogies SAW and INSIDIOUS, so there was little doubt that he would deliver on the fear factor. This is well executed through Griffin’s torments of Cecelia as seen through Leigh’s simple yet effective cinematic lens. As if he wrote the gaslighter’s bible, Griffin manages to slowly alienate her from those close to her, and the more she tries to reveal his abuse the more he seems to enjoy it. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that Cecilia is the perfect antagonist to his ego and she will torment him right back. Elisabeth Moss, unsurprisingly, slips comfortably into the role given her stellar performance as June in THE HANDMAID’S TALE.
Presenting a rendition of the tale where the protagonist is a woman in an abusive relationship, is an interesting choice that bodes well during the #MeToo era. And while the setup does hazard the cliche of the “domestic abuse-vigilante revenge” film trope, classic tale of The Invisible Man, and it’s own underlying themes of freedom, greed, and science narrowly prevent it from doing so.
Yet while I was watching, I couldn’t help but ask questions, which can be especially problematic in a sci-fi horror where the viewer’s fear depends on the power of the tech. Did Griffin have a silent invisible car? How did that work with traffic? Did he eat invisible food while he stalked Cecilia? Does he go to the bathroom in the suit? There were a lot and thinking about the answers distracted me from the film – I just wasn’t able to wholly suspend my disbelief.
Tech questions aside, we didn’t get to learn that much else about Griffin apart from he was mean to his brother and girlfriend, and really, really smart. Perhaps digging more into why Griffin was so determined to create an invisibility suit in the first place may have made him a more formidable character rather than a scientist in a suit. Nonetheless, it is a thrilling watch where you don’t want to blink, lest you miss one of his devious tricks.